Footwear developer creates the world’s first 3D printed shoe from recycled textile
Together with a university, an innovation centre, and a 3D company, Chris Margetts aims to turn his fascination for 3D printing into commercialized footwear.
15 Feb 2022

According to Margetts, the fashion industry and especially the footwear industry operate a very archaic model with a high carbon footprint and with products often travelling halfway around the world to reach their final destination.

— I felt that the industry wasn’t doing enough to address this, he tells.

With over 20 years of experience working within the fashion industry in the UK, after seeing how slow the industry was reacting to innovation and sustainability, he decided to move to Sweden and started a new life with his family focused on what he describes as a more positive lifestyle and business outlook. His company, The Sole Theory, has two parts to the business; one side is focused on sustainable projects and consultancy to help other fashion brands become more sustainable and the other side is managing a vegan sustainable fashion brand, working with materials like apple leather and recycled plastic ocean trash nylon.

— I then wanted to explore the cleanest and most efficient way possible to produce footwear while also addressing customers needs for better choice and more comfort. I’ve always been fascinated by 3D printing and always followed closely anyone in the fashion industry that tried to bring this concept to market. Apart from a few examples on clothing and the odd attempt from some sports brands we’ve not really seen this technology fully commercialized on footwear. For me, everything 3D printing can offer is the perfect solution for fixing these problems if the right materials and technology can come together. 

After meeting with Wargön Innovation, a Swedish innovation company and development and innovation centre, who were very interested in his idea, they started discussing the huge problem around textile waste.

— In particular, we talked about the plastic materials like polyester and nylon. We realized that if we could incorporate that into this project, then we would also be solving another big problem, and we also teamed up with Stockholm University and ZYYX Labs for the project.

— The recycling process is inspired by the fact that textile waste contains both polymers and cotton fibres that can be converted into composites and made into 3D printable filaments, says Aji Mathew, professor at Stockholm University.

Chris Margetts. Photography: Filippa Bohlin.

The textiles, Margetts tells, have been collected by Wargön Innovation at their centre in Vargön where the textiles are sorted by type and then shredded down. After that, the textiles go to Stockholm University and the company Add North and a filament production centre where the materials are broken down and turned into a filament. The shoes are then 3D printed by ZYYX Labs which develops and produces 3D printers focusing on strong composite materials.

— We had 12 pairs of shoes printed which we’ve tested and the results were very positive. When asked if people would buy this sandal in its current form over 50% said they would but all wear-testers reported that they had other sandals more comfortable. My conclusion from this was that we definitely already have something special but with room for improvement.

One of 12 pairs. Photography: Filippa Bohlin.

Calculations show the environmental impact can decrease by up to 95 per cent per shoe using recycled textiles. Furthermore, the number of components in a pair of shoes can decrease from 20-30 to about 2-3, which would ease the recycling process considerably.

— We believe that the 3D printer will be a standard tool for every engineer, just like the computer is today. In this case, working with hand-recycled textile fibres, I was expecting more flow issues, but the results were surprisingly good, says Tomas Bengtsson, CEO of ZYYX Labs.

— You will be able to take last season’s fashion and recycle the material to today’s outfit. It is a whole new way of thinking, says Chris Margetts.

How will you proceed?

— Our next step is to commercialise this material even more to increase comfort and performance while also working on new designs such as sneakers and rain boots. We will also be working on ways to add 3D body scanning to the machine so we can scan people’s feet and print personalised shoes to their exact fit and specification on demand. We hope to have these next stages of the project completed within 2-3 years, Margetts concludes.